America/New Zealand

A New Zealandy Christ mas

December 25, 2016

Christmas takes on a different flavor on this side of the world. 

It's a little hard to reconcile the deeply ingrained traditions that I have grown accustomed to with the upside down seasons here in New Zealand. We have a winter here - a cold, dreary, grey winter. There isn't any snow in Auckland, but there's plenty of wet, cold rain to make up for it. After winter, there is a beautiful, bloom-filled spring, and finally, the glorious, bone-warming, blues-chasing sun arrives and all you want to do is race to the beach, picnic in the sand, play ball until the sun goes down (which isn't till like 9:00 or something), and revel in all things summery. 

It's also Christmastime. The kiwis have come up with traditions of their own. They have a Christmas barbecue and airy desserts topped with fresh, luscious berries. They blend the familiar red and white colors of Christmas into fresh, beachy, summery stripes, and they put the holiday greetings on t-shirts and singlets (tank tops) instead of sweaters. But, the old traditions are still there as well (many of their grandparents were from England or Europe after all). 

The shopping malls are decked out with pine boughs and Christmas trees. There are penguins and reindeer, snow-topped pine trees, gingerbread men, hot cocoa, warming spices, snowflakes, and snowmen. And of course, the holiday songs are all about the snow and cold weather, and a snowy white Christmas. None of this has anything to do with the real meaning of Christmas, but it's all so familiar and so cozy ... and so weirdly out of place when it's summer outside!

It takes some getting used to, but at the same time it is a very nice way to remember that Christmas isn't about the season, it isn't about the trappings, it isn't about presents or the tinsel. Christmas is a celebration of the birth, the life, and the teachings of a very special person. Lord Jesus Christ. 

When thinking of the teachings of Jesus, I like to meditate on most essential of his teachings. When asked what his greatest commandment was, Jesus said 

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

I may not call myself a Christian, but it doesn't matter what label I attach to myself. Labels can change. what's important is that I try to love God, just as Jesus taught, and just as my spiritual master, Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda teaches. The essence of the teachings of Jesus, and the essence of Bhakti Yoga are one and the same. 

There is a saying 

Buddha was not a Buddhist, Jesus was not a Christian, Muhammad wasn't a Muslim. 
They were teachers who taught LOVE. Love was their religion.

So, this Christmas season I try to reflect on the teachings of Jesus Christ, pray for his blessings and guidance, and try to sing the names of God from my heart. And you know, all of these things can be done rain or shine, winter or summer, on the beach, or in the snow ... so these are the traditions that I will be holding fast to.

I hope that whatever part of the world you are in, you also take some time to remember the real meaning of Christmas and fill your hearts with love. :)

Merry Christmas!